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The New PSM Normal (5) — Standards

May 20, 2020

Face mask over a globe symbolizes the COVID-19 pandemic

We are writing a series of posts to do with the ‘New Normal’. They discuss what the world of industrial safety may look like once the current pandemic dies down and business activities resume. Previous posts on this topic are:

In this post I would like to consider how those of us who work in industrial and process safety can help the community at large? The subject came to mind when I was discussing the eventual return of people to church services with a colleague. Our Episcopal diocese has organized a four-phase program for the re-opening of the churches (we are currently in Phase One).

Phases Two and Three require everyone to wear a face mask while on church premises. But the guidelines do not specify what type of mask. Right now, due to the unavailability of commercially-made items, many people are wearing home-made cloth masks. These are good for protecting other people, and they set the right tone — people who wear masks are sending a message that they care. However, there is no control over the design or effectiveness of these masks. Any type of mask offers substantial benefits, so they should always be worn. However, the effectiveness of the individual masks is bound to be quite variable.

I suggested to the church leaders that we should specify that masks should meet an industrial standard such as ASTM Level 2, as shown in the following chart.

ASTM Standards for Face Masks

The suggestion was not taken up. Maybe the reason for the pushback was that most people are not used to a culture of safety standards. Yet such a culture is taken for granted by readers of posts such as this. Were one of us to show up at a chemical plant or refinery wearing a home-made hard hat we would be shown the exit immediately.

So part of the ‘New Normal’ may be for safety professionals to urge the use of standards such as those provided by ASTM when it comes to responding to the crisis.

ASTM standards for use in COVID-19 pandemic

The following information was taken from the ASTM web site.

ASTM International is providing no-cost public access to important ASTM standards used in the production and testing of personal protective equipment – including face masks, medical gowns, gloves, and hand sanitizers – to support manufacturers, test labs, health care professionals, and the general public as they respond to the global COVID-19 public health emergency.


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